Trend Watch: Gut health

04 April 2024, 18:00 PM
  • Know your prebiotics from your probiotics to capitalise on the latest trend says Sally-Jayne Wright
Trend Watch: Gut health

You know a trend has reached the mainstream when it appears in Marks and Spencer. In collaboration with the retailer, Professor Tim Spector of King’s College, London launched Zoe’s kefir gut health shot in January. There’s a Zoe programme, too, where consumers pay to have samples tested and learn about nutrition.

What is a Zoe gut health shot?

A fermented milk and berry drink with prebiotic fibre, plus over five billion live cultures from 14 different strains of bacteria.

What’s behind the gut health trend?

Scientists have discovered that the trillions of bacteria in our gut impact not just digestion but also every aspect of our health from obesity to depression. We are born with a unique colony of bugs called a gut microbiome. When bad microbes outnumber good, it leads to imbalances and can contribute to ill health, even autoimmune disease. 

Probiotics are good bacteria, aren’t they?

Correct, and prebiotics are what they feed on. Probiotics like a varied diet of wholefoods, fibre, pulses, fruit and vegetables. Bad bacteria enjoy the sugar, sweeteners and emulsifiers found in ultra processed foods.

Enough science! What should we stock to capitalise on the trend? 

Offer chilled, naturally fermented foods such as kimchi, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, live yoghurt and miso. The process of fermentation makes nutrients more accessible. Be aware that there is no regulation of what can be labelled kombucha. Some so-called kombuchas and kefirs are not fermented; carbonisation provides the fizz.

Our customers are keen to try kefir and kombucha but fear they won’t like the taste

Doubtless this is why the Zoe shot comes flavoured with fruit and why the makers of Biotiful Gut Health kefir felt obliged to launch coffee, mango and raspberry variants. We prefer the original, plain Biotiful kefir and it is still their bestseller. 

The most delicious kombucha we have tasted, by far, is Real Sparkling Tea Royal Flush which comes in gift-worthy, corked bottles. 

I’ve read natural ferments are harder to produce on a commercial scale so a good product for independents. Should we make our own?

At the Broughgammon Farm Shop in County Antrim, co-owner Becky Cole makes water kefir and kombucha as well as kimchi from farm fresh kohlrabi, beets and cabbage. She teaches about four fermenting classes a year and says, “Classes are part of our business plan. They attract repeat students and more footfall to the shop and café. Twelve students pay £55 each for a morning’s course.” Becky also sells Amberline Preserves made in Northern Ireland from award-winning eco-farmed produce.

What are some of the top-selling gut health products?

Elin Roberts, co-founder of Better Nature tempeh, reports sales are up almost 80% year on year to January 2024. We like the BBQ variant which won a Great Taste Award star.

The chilled kimchi and pickles category, of which Vadasz has a 93% share, grew 70.6% in value and 75.9% in volume YOY to December 2023. 

Bone broth is another product thought to support gut health. Sales of Borough Organic Bone Broth at Waitrose rose by almost 50% in the three months to February 2024. Our favourite is the award-winning Chicken Pho, from which you can make a Vietnamese soup.

Why is it so important to know your customer?

According to research by the yoghurt brand Activia, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Brits admit they need to take better care of their gut health, yet only 12% feel very confident they know how to. Decide if your customers belong to the 12%, or whether they want healthy convenience. Most likely, you have a mix. 

Well-informed customers will look for ‘living cultures’ and avoid sweetened and ambient products because they know pasteurisation kills beneficial bacteria. 

Fans of convenience will see fibre-enriched chocolate or a pre-biotic soda as healthier than confectionery and sweet fizzy drinks. This is the market at which Fhirst living soda is aimed. Fhirst won Best Functional Drink at the World Beverage Awards in 2023. Pro and prebiotics are micro-encapsulated for longer shelf life, a natural stevia infusion provides the sweetness and there are three variants plus new Lemon and Lime launching April 2024.

How to make the most of the gut health trend

1. Host talks by an expert.

2. If an item on your cafe menu benefits gut health, say so.

3. Know your stuff. Around 70% of the immune system is found in the gut, and since the pandemic consumers really care about immune health.

4. Contact the Fermenters’ Guild for local and new fermented foods to stock. We love the eye-catching jars of Hackney-made, Kim Kong Kimchi.

Will the gut health trend last?

We predict strong growth followed by an inevitable dip. Gut health is complex and there’s a lot still to learn. Scientists already know specific bacteria benefit specific conditions, which is why you can buy tailor-made nutritional supplements.

The good news is that independents who sell aged Parmesan and blue cheese already stock sources of probiotics. There’s more research needed, but perhaps now is the time to tell your cheese-loving customers that cheese may be good for their gut. 

Not the outside, maybe, but the inside.


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